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Government to open up new postcode database to businesses – at a cost

The new system will give each address, including individual apartments in one building, their own unique code.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Update 10.02pm

THE NEW POSTCODE system will be used to generate additional Revenue, TheJournal.ie has learned, as the government plans to charge businesses to access the database when it is compiled.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said the system, due to be rolled out in 2015, will streamline the postal service but will also serve as a useful tool for emergency services and in satellite navigation, and bring us in line with other European countries.

This system will mean a database of the postcodes for every address in the state will be created and Minister Rabbitte’s department told this website that the State will own this database.

The department also confirmed that it would allow businesses to access the database at a cost. It will operate similar to the database in the UK, where businesses and emergency services pay a fee to look at the file. This information can be used for a number of purposes including assigning a local business branch to a specific address or for calculating insurance premiums.

A consortium, headed by Capita Ireland as the company, will develop, roll-out and operate the system.

The department said the level of charges applying to businesses for access to the database will be finalised by its office and the Capita consortium before its launch.

Selling postcodes

There was concern in the UK this year when the government decided to sell off its postcode file, which was worth between £500 million and £900 million, along with the Royal Mail. However the Department of Communications said the Irish State will retain ownership of the database once it is created.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) has been working with the department on this plan to ensure it does not breach legislation. In response to a query from this website, the ODPC said:

The sale of any postcode database would be a matter for the relevant department, however data protection issues may arise particularly if the database identifies individuals or an individual address identifier.

Concerns

While the department said the provisions of data protection legislation will continue to apply to all holders of personal data linked to postcodes, concerns have been expressed about the new system as Ireland will be the first country in the world to have a unique code for every address – including individual apartments or flats in one property.

Fintan Swanton, who is a member of the Association of Data Protection Officers, told TheJournal.ie that there is “no doubt” that the codes will be personal data.

“It has to be handled in the same way as an email address or a phone number,” he said. “The key thing is that it needs to be clear that a postcode is protected like any other personal data.”

He said that opening up the database to businesses would likely work in a similar way to the phone directory.

However critics of the new system have pointed out that a person can choose not to be included in the directory, while the new postcode system will be mandatory.

The ODPC said it has had discussions with the department over the past few years and this process is ongoing. “The ODPC has concerns from a data protection perspective in relation to the type of postcode under consideration,” it said in a statement.

The office said discussions are ongoing, to ensure that data protection principles will be protected in any kind of new postcode system.

First published 6.45am

Read: Confirmed: New national postcode system to be rolled out by Spring 2015>

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